I realised when I used to say I had ‘done’ any country or destination, it simply wasn’t true, no matter how long I had spent there.
Places would always surprise me and swallow me whole again the second – and third – time around. Istanbul is one of those places that you really shouldn’t rush, trust me, you will regret it…
Having been pulling overtime like it was as natural as drinking water, I just wanted to wander aimlessly. To eat when my mood told me to, to see sights when I wanted – I wanted to play full-blown tourist in Turkey.
I was happy to skip things I didn’t want to queue for. To simply mull over a cup of tea and people-watch for hours. I never wanted to know what the time was or set the alarm.
And honestly, I don’t think there is a city break better suited for that kind of weekend…
The kind of weekend where you spend ‘time in’ Istanbul rather than ‘doing’ Istanbul.
Istanbul is one of those places I doubt will ever spit you out but simply chew you back up into its electric life whenever the time comes to return again.
The history haunts the streets, the future glides past you with each modern tram, and the call to prayer lifts you up as the scent of sweet corn lulls you in.
Istanbul is everything a city should be and – more importantly –everything you want to return for.
As your eyes dart from one grand building to the next, let them wonder. The young boy chases a pigeon with glee whilst his sister shrieks with excitement at the corn truck. The mother looks torn with a smile at which one to follow.
Spending what seems like an eternity staring at a ceiling of a Mosque or palace. Trying to fathom the intricate detail above you that your eye just can’t consume in its entirety.
It is the little details in Istanbul that will have you hooked if you allow them.
Piecing together the art, the stories and the architecture into understanding such a strategic point that bridges the east and west of this world.
The history and the empires that had called this city home all present themselves, alongside the real moments, such as a young boy enjoying the simple pleasures of chasing a bird on a Saturday afternoon.
The yellow taxis come to a standstill in the square; drivers laugh with each other whilst grabbing a refreshment from a nearby stall. Modern trams slide by quietly as they catch the reflections of Mosques that tell stories.
People drink wine, oh the wine, did you know Turkey has an amazing a wine region? Go wine tasting in Turkey; you’ll see what I mean.
If all cities could deliver old and new together so boldly, yet, so effortlessly, in the way that Istanbul could, then I doubt anyone could ever say, ‘I am just not a city person’.
Old faces, young smiles, busy markets and small cobbled paths lead you to a handful of men laughing and smoking shisha. The scent of Kebab lingers as you search for that next cup of fragrant Turkish tea. The blue sky lights up the Blue Mosque, and you really don’t want the day to end.
The call to prayer echoes through the city; out of a small door, you can see the man whose lungs carry the call through the wind around you. The crowded attractions somehow manage a return to purpose, to keep their roots true, to somehow still feel real even with the onslaught of selfies and confused dress codes.
Istanbul is electric.
Electric – it’s the first and last word that comes to my mind when I have to describe it. The verdant gardens, that Bosphorus river, the flattering red flags, the shades, the shops, the tea… everything wraps up into one bundle of power that explodes around you.
Even after sunset, in the rare spots where this is a stillness of the night, it’s electric. Cats pound the cobbles with you until – often very quickly – you’re in controlled chaos again.
If you visit Istanbul, then do yourself a favour and take it slow. A weekend was never going to be enough, and I could have easily spent a week wandering those lanes, sipping on tea and catching the last light of the day lingering on the rooftops and minarets.
So yeah, I am certainly not qualified to write a definitive list of what you ‘must see’ in Istanbul. I did, however, take in the little moments, the places across from the sights, and the atmosphere of the city.
With what I was lucky enough to enjoy in that short weekend, I am pretty confident in saying – you will love Istanbul – and I will be back. (Update: of course, I’ve since returned.)